How to beat information overload (without missing useful learnings)

In her book “How to decide”, Annie Duke writes

Your chief weapon to improve your decisions is turning some of the “stuff you don’t know” into “stuff you know.”

(By the way, it’s the most practical and usable book about decision making I’ve ever read. Highly recommended.)

Perfect information is a mirage. But more information helps decision making. The learning process has a cost though.

There’s too much to know. How do you find the time? How do you recognize good sources? How much is enough?

These were the most common problems in the answers to our recent survey.

Just in time learning: focus on what you need now

Just in time learning means studying only what you need to face current decisions.

It’s the opposite of “just in case learning”, where you study any topic that’s even slightly interesting.

As a creator, you need multiple skills. But you don’t have to master them at the same time. When you are trying to build an audience you should focus on writing. When you need more clients, you study sales skills.

Avoid the echo chamber

Just in time learning has a drawback. Knowing different disciplines and making associations helps understanding complex systems (e.g. everything you deal with daily 😧) and coming up with original ideas.

Focusing only on knowledge that can be immediately applied leaves less space for this. How do you find the right balance?

I do as follows:

  • I dedicate most of my focused learning time to what’s immediately useful, using the best sources I find,
  • I consume varied content during downtime, often in the background.

So, I reserve most of my learning energy to the vital topics. But I don’t close the door to new ideas.

How to choose the best sources?

There’s no time to consume bad content. But quality is deceiving. How do you find useful content sources?

The fame of the author isn’t a guarantee. Even some famous bloggers or tweeters are only great wordsmiths. They don’t teach anything new. They are good at repackaging and distribution. They’re everywhere and this increases their value thank to the availability bias and recency biase.

To save time searching, I choose books:

  • at least 1 year old (preferably older),
  • with hundreds of Goodreads reviews,
  • rated close to 4 stars or more,
  • mentioned many times by different sources,
  • suggested by another trusted source (person or content).

The age of the book is important. The first reviewers are usually the fans of the author. After a year or more the launch effect has waned.

Reviews on Goodreads are usually stricter than on Amazon. Books with less than 4 stars can still be interesting.

The last two criteria are optional. They become more applicable as you keep finding new trusted quality sources.

Besides books, I tend to prefer paid content in general. For example, I’m using an annual Masterclass membership these days. I am watching all of the cooking classes (my guilty pleasure!).

Even though I’ve been following the best cooking Youtubers for years, those classes still have an edge. The selected recipes, the detailed explanations, cinematography and lighting make me feel I am learning much more.

What about free content?

Fortunately there, is plenty of good free information. I usually look for someone that is reliable: most of the content is interesting, insightful and well produced.

I follow the fanboy principle:

  • I stumble upon a piece of content that proves useful,
  • I start bingeing on everything the author has published: podcast, blog, newsletter, videos and so on,
  • if I start losing interest, I stop following,
  • otherwise, he/she becomes a trusted source (I become a fanboy),
  • I then explore his/her suggestions to find other trusted sources.

In a way, I am looking for people I resonate with. I don’t only like the topics, or the way they write or talk. I also feel the same way. This tells me I can trust their words and saves time.

Longer and difficult wins

Good content has usually two defining features.

First, it’s long and in-depth. I know, you can write thousands of hours and say nothing useful.

But when the author is good, you often have more ROI from long and in-depth content. A very dense 500 words blog post can inspire you. But a very dense 5000 words guide is enough to start understanding a new topic.

Second, good content is a little too difficult. It’s not something you scroll mindlessly at night with the TV on.

It’s like a good workout: not so easy that you don’t break a sweat, not so hard that you burn your gym membership. 😉

For me, the telltale sign of “a little too difficult” content is the need to go back and reread or relisten a passage. Either because I didn’t fully understand or because I feel there’s a crucial concept.

That’s it!

These are the rules I follow to optimize my content consumption. Do you find them useful?

What are the rules of your information diet?

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